Snow-tolerant Veggies

Yes, it’s May. And yes, it’s still snowing. In fact, we had temperatures around 20 degrees, with snow, over the past few days. The prediction is for warmer weather, but in previous years we’ve had snow and lows below freezing well into June. Of course I’m anxious to get my garden growing—but what will survive our winter/spring weather? Surprisingly, quite a lot!

Kale
LAH_7318We were gone last fall, so I never got around to pulling out last summer’s freeze-killed veggies. It turns out that was a good thing. With no protection at all, my Starbor kale roots survived our Zone 4 winter, and new growth is appearing from a dead-looking stump. I expect the kale plants to bolt as soon as it warms up a bit more, but in the meantime, I’m harvesting kale now. I plan to include kale in my garden again this year, starting seeds inside and setting out plants in late June to mature in September and October, after frost sweetens the leaves. You can bet I’ll leave those plants in place next fall, maybe with a bit of mulch or a row cover, for yet another early harvest. Continue reading “Snow-tolerant Veggies”

Bountiful Basil

Colorado State Univ. Field DayThe overpowering aroma of basil fills my kitchen. A huge pile of green leaves and stems occupies the counter, next to a bottle of olive oil, several heads of garlic, and a mound of grated Parmesan cheese. It’s pesto time.

I enjoy using basil all year long, but I’ve had bad luck growing plants indoors during the winter. White flies, mealy bugs, and other pests agree that this mint family member is delicious. I’ve finally come to realize I have to do my growing during the summer, but I can still enjoy basil’s fresh flavor in the middle of February.

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Season-long Harvests

Kohlrabi_ColoSpgs-CO_LAH_4863You’ve been hard at work all spring. First you started some seeds indoors, then you hardened them off so they will withstand the rigors of Colorado weather. You set your transplants in beds you carefully prepared with just the right amendments and fertilizers. Then you seeded some other crops (such as bush beans and squash) outdoors where they are to grow, and now you have cute little seedlings, putting out their first true leaves, on their way to providing you with some delicious eating.

Finally, it’s time to take a break, sit back, and snooze in your hammock (in between chores such as watering and weeding), and wait for your crops to mature.

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Help! My Lettuce is Blooming!

Flowering lettuce_BlkForest-CO_LAH_5932My lettuce is blooming. Instead of sweet, tender Buttercrunch and crisp red Prizehead, I have leaves so bitter, even my hens are spurning them. Rats.

At this time of year, it’s common for leafy greens to bloom or, as it’s known in garden-speak, bolt. Long hours of sunlight, combined with torrid temperatures induce flowering. In most cases, there’s nothing to be done. It’s simply time to pull the plants that haven’t yet been harvested and add them to the compost pile.

For example, spinach blooms when days last more than 14 to 16 hours. (Interestingly, spinach will only bloom when days are long.) Warm temperatures will accelerate this process. Dorothy Hinshaw Patent and Diane E. Bilderback explain why this happens in The Book of Garden Secrets:

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My 2013 Garden

Seed trays_LAH_9674For a gardener living in Colorado, April must be the hardest month of the year. Every article I see, every post on the gardening blogs I read celebrates the arrival of spring. Photos of germinating peas, lettuce, and other greens decorate my friends’ Facebook pages.

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My Favorite Lettuce Varieties: Butterhead

lettuce-butterhead-blkforestco-5junt07-lah-006Butterhead (aka bibb) lettuce, with its smooth, soft leaves and loose heads, is by far my favorite kind. It’s also rather pricey in the stores. I probably plant twice as much butterhead as I do all the other varieties combined.

I’ve been hunting for a butterhead that is big, holds for several weeks at maturity, resists tipburn (a problem with our hot, dry, windy weather), and is tender and flavorful—a pretty tall order. I finally came up with a winner, but let me first tell you about the also-rans.

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My Favorite Lettuce Varieties: Crisphead, Romaine & Batavian

lettuce-butterhead-blkforestco-5junt07-lah-003(Don’t miss my previous post on loose-leaf lettuce varieties.)

What can be crisp or soft and buttery, grows stiffly erect or low and floppy, has pointed leaves, rounded leaves, ruffled leaves or smooth leaves, comes in light red, wine red, chartreuse, grass green, or forest green, can taste delicious no matter what it looks like?

Lettuce, of course.

We’re all familiar with the lettuce varieties that show up in the produce aisle—classic iceberg, red or green leaf lettuce, romaine, and butterhead. If you are willing to grow your own, that’s just the beginning.

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Bloomin’ Lettuce

lettuce-bolting_home_lah_5096Mid-summer has finally caught up with my spring garden. The lettuce I set out in early May has matured. We’ve eaten dozens of salads and shared the bounty with friends. The few heads that remain are beginning to stretch upwards. Sweet leaves are turning bitter. When the plants we grow for greens decide to grow flowers instead of leaves, we all that “bolting.”

I was hoping to stretch my lettuce harvest one more week, but a hail storm this afternoon sealed the fate of my spring lettuce patch. The chickens don’t give a cluck about the bitterness, so the now-shredded leaves are all theirs.

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Planting Lettuce in Winter

lettuce-bf-2008may30-lah-002Are you staring out the window, watching the snowflakes, and desperately wanting to plant something? Guess what—you can! It may be too early to start tomatoes and broccoli, but lettuce seedlings can handle the cold with a little protection. So pull out the recycled six-packs and potting soil, soak your peat pots, and clear some space on the counter. It’s planting time!

I’ve written several posts about starting seeds (see April 2009 for the basics, or choose “Gardening: Starting Seeds” under Categories, in the upper left of the screen), so I won’t go over all that again. Rather, I’d like to encourage you to push the limits and experiment a bit. Most seed packets contain far more seeds than a home gardener is likely to use, so you can afford to take a few chances.

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Plant Fall Crops Now

Plant? NOW?

brusselssprouts_dbg_lah_7726Temperatures are climbing into the 90s, your spring-planted crops are reaching maturity, and you’re excited about garden fresh salads and new potatoes. Besides harvesting your bounty, there are millions of weeds to be pulled, poisoned, or decapitated. The last thing on your mind is planting more seeds.

In more benign climates, fall crops go in at the end of the summer, after the worst heat has passed. Our short season demands that we plant fall crops earlier, to give them time to mature before the snow flies. Now is the time.

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